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Saturday, 18 August 2018

2019 Polls Budget: National Assembly Panel Suspends Deliberations Indefinitely

2019 Polls Budget: National Assembly Panel Suspends Deliberations Indefinitely

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The lawmakers have halted the deliberations on the INEC budget which has been frowned at by a generality of Nigerians.

The Joint Committee of the National Assembly on the Independent National Electoral Commission on Friday suspended indefinitely, deliberations on the N189bn budget submitted by the commission for the conduct of 2019 elections.

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The Committee Chairman, Suleiman Nazif, who announced the indefinite suspension at the end of the panel’s meeting, however, assured Nigerians that members would do the needful to ensure that  the citizens emerge victorious at the end of the day.

He said, “‘Honourable minister, honourable chairman (of INEC) and presidential liaison, I want to thank you very much for your time. We have the prerogative as a committee to look into all the details having got all the clarifications we require. We will now sit as a committee at the end of the day on which one to use. We are not playing politics here.

‘‘This is not where we play politics. On this note, this meeting is adjourned sine die (indefinitely).”

Saturday PUNCH learnt that members of  the panel did not take a decision on the fate of the N189bn budget submitted by the electoral commission at Friday’s meeting.

Investigations showed that members of the committee were torn between considering INEC’s N189bn  and the President’s request that N143bn  out of the amount should be vired from the 2018 budget while the balance of N45.6bn should accommodated in the 2019 supplementary budget.

Nazif, who chaired Friday’s meeting at the National Assembly, tried to offer explanations on the areas of conflict.

He said, “The issue in contention is, we have a letter from Mr. President requesting supplementary budget and what we have is a budget of N143, 512, 529.00, that is what we have in the President’s letter.

“But at the same time, there is another N45bn. When you put the N143bn and the N45.6bn, it gives us the N189bn, there is no confusion in it.

“INEC did the right thing, the President sent his letter. It is the sources of funding that became a problem that is why we invited the Minister of Budget and National Planning so that he can clarify.”

In response, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, explained that the President would be comfortable with whatever the National Assembly come up with as regards how the INEC budget was funded, as long as it would not increase the size of the 2018 budget.

He said, “This is a special election budget. The normal INEC budget was submitted together with the normal budget which was completed in October and submitted to the National Assembly in November last year.

“This one is not the regular budget, it’s a special election budget and usually it is brought as a supplementary or virement it could only come after the main budget had been passed.

“Basically, the amount that INEC asked for is N189bn. When Mr. President considered the funding constraints, the Budget Office looked at the budget and said, are there aspects of this budget which they are not going to spend in 2018 but are likely to spend between January and February 2019? Those elements were put in the 2019 budget.”

Udoma further explained that he understood the concerns of the lawmakers because he had been following the conversation.

According to him, the lawmakers are concerned about the fact that the 2019 budget may not be passed early enough to accommodate the part of the budget projected to be captured in the 2019 budget.

To address this concern, the minister said, “We will  have no objection whatsoever to your appropriating the full amount N189bn for the 2018 budget; that will mean that we will not include the N45.6bn in the 2019 budget which we are preparing now.

“If this is to be done, the N45.6bn the President stated in his letter, which is proposed to be provided for in the 2019 budget, would also have to be vired along with the N143bn from the N578bn fund appropriated for in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly for the additional 1,403 projects included in the budget.”

Responding to a question by a committee member as to whether he had the authorisation to make the submission, Udoma said, “The discretion on which of the requests to be approved by you now, is yours. If you approve the N143bn the President requested, it is okay and if you approve the entire N189bn for INEC this year, it is also alright.”

He further said, “Any of the two is okay for the executive, except that if you approve the N189bn through virement, the N45.6bn planned to be captured in the 2019 budget, would no longer be part of the budget estimates for that year.”

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